Michigan canvassers call for further investigations into signature fraud, forgery (2024)

Beth LeBlancThe Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan's canvassers called for further investigations into fraud and forgery in the state's petition signature gathering process as they waded through dozens of complaints Friday alleging inappropriate signatures on multiple nominating petitions for Congress and the state courts.

The Board of State Canvassers plans to recommend that the Bureau of Elections prepare a report on any allegations of fraud related this year's nominating petitions, with the names of circulators, companies or others believed to be involved made public in the report so the public and, ultimately, law enforcement have full knowledge of what's occurring. The recommendation comes two years after Michigan's GOP gubernatorial primary was rocked by a signature forgery ring that knocked five candidates out of the race, including then-frontrunner James Craig, the former Detroit police chief.

"I hope that we can take whatever steps are necessary to see that it stops," Canvasser Mary Ellen Gurewitz, chairwoman for the Board of State Canvassers, said Friday.

In all on Friday, the Bureau of Elections recommended and the Bureau of State Canvassers accepted the disqualification of eight congressional candidates and several judicial candidates based on insufficient nominating petitions, in some cases because signatures appearing fraudulent were removed from the total.

The Board of State Canvassers also accepted the certification of some candidates whose petitions were challenged by opposition based on alleged fraudulent signatures, the most high profile being GOP U.S. Senate candidate Mike Rogers. The Bureau of Elections recommended the acceptance of the former congressman's petition regardless of the challenge, noting the signatures alleged to have been fraudulent would not overcome the number of valid signatures gathered by the Rogers campaign.

Canvassers agreed and certified Rogers' petition, but pushed for further review of signatures believed to be invalid.

Republican Canvasser Tony Daunt and other board members noted the fraud perpetrated by circulators endangered the candidacies of Republicans and Democrats alike. He questioned why Attorney General Dana Nessel had moved forward with just one prosecution after the 2022 scandal resulting in the disqualification of five GOP candidates for governor.

"It is a threat. Everybody claims it’s a threat," Daunt said of bad actors within the signature gathering buisness. "What the hell is she doing?”

Nessel's spokeswoman Kim Bush said the ongoing court case related to the 2022 signature fraud ring involves three defendants considered "ringleaders" of the effort, seven victims and 79 felonies. The case is expected to be bound over for trial to circuit court next month.

"As to current allegations or suspicions of fraud, if and when the Department of State turns those matters over to us, we will review at that time to determine the next steps," Bush said.

Elections Director Jonathan Brater said Friday that the Bureau of Elections, by and large, believed the fraud rate had improved from the 2022 GOP gubernatorial primary, with candidates having some fraudulent signatures but not whole pages of inappropriate signatures.

"Last time, as I mentioned, we went through sheet after sheet after sheet and couldn't find any good signatures in these," Brater said. "But this time they were mixed in. We had some entirely bad sheets. We had some entirely good sheets from these circulators. We also had sheets that had a mix of signatures that were valid and invalid."

But several attorneys on Friday alleged the presence of fraudulent signatures, which they acknowledged had become more "sophisticated" over the years, should be fully investigated beyond the sample the Bureau of Elections uses to determine the sufficiency of the petition. And if enough fraud is found, those individuals should be blocked from getting a spot on the ballot for federal office and state court judgeships.

Elections lawyer Mark Brewer, former chairman for the Michigan Democratic Party, argued the nominating petition submitted by Court of Appeals candidate Lisa Marie Neilson was "riddled" with fraud even as her attorneys argued they could prove the validity of enough signatures for her to still earn a spot on the ballot.

"This petition is riddled with forgery, and this candidate has no place on the ballot, let alone on the Court of Appeals," Brewer said. "...The candidate or whoever worked for her did not ensure that forgery did not exist.”

Brewer, a longtime elections lawyer, said signature forgery has long plagued Michigan's petition system but, in recent years, challengers have been able to identify more efficiently thanks to the advent of electronic copies of petition sheets. He said he was supportive of the board's plans to request a report on this year's instances of fraud.

"The voters have a right to know which candidates got on the ballot based on forgery," Brewer said. "That's important information for them so they can make a decision as to whether they want to support those candidates or not."

Neilson's petition was tabled as her attorneys work to disprove allegations of fraud related to nearly 30 signatures. Her attorney, Alan Feuer, acknowledged that Neilson had some "bad circulators," but a large chunk of the signatures challenged were gathered by her husband, who had no intention of endangering her candidacy, he said.

"I believe that when you need that many signatures that it is very close to impossible to do it with volunteers and that if you hire people not every single person will be honest," Feuer said. "They have a financial incentive to add signatures."

The campaign for Nikki Snyder, a Republican member of the State Board of Education who was attempting to run for the 8th Congressional District race, voiced frustrations over the insufficiency of signatures last week. A consultant hired to help with signature collection did not collect as many as needed and what signatures were collected through the contractor appear to be fraudulent, said Michael Stroud, senior adviser to the campaign.

Stroud noted the amount of fraud in Michigan signature gathering efforts had increased in recent years across parties. “You’re going to see more and more people move forward with distrust toward political consultants and contractors when it comes to signature gathering,” he said.

The Board of State Canvassers ultimately deemed insufficient the petitions submitted by eight candidates: Snyder, JD Wilson, Anil Kumar, Rhonda Powell, Steven Elliott, Ryan Foster, Hassan Nehme and Nasser Beydoun.

Beydoun, a Dearborn Democrat running for U.S. Senate, indicated he'd be seeking court intervention to make it on the primary ballot. His nominating petition had been deemed insufficient because he included a P.O. Box on the header of the petition instead of his home address. Beydoun argued the requirement could lead to threats and that he'd ask the courts to "change this absurd rule"

"The easiest way to shove me out of this race was to silence my platform and rule out my petitions rather than challenge a dated clause that is filled with ambiguity and in my case, danger," Beydoun said.

The Board of State Canvassers reversed a Bureau of Elections recommendation to disqualify Josh Saul, who is running for the 1st Congressional District. Saul was able to reverse a decision on a technicality and then prove he had enough valid signatures to make the ballot.


Michigan canvassers call for further investigations into signature fraud, forgery (2024)


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